If you find yourself getting mouthy when you haven't put anything in your mouth (or stomach) for a while, you're not alone — it turns out that being "hangry" is actually a real thing. According to Ohio State University Professor of Communication and Psychology Brad Bushman, aggression is a common response to hunger and the resulting lapse in self-control. That doesn't mean you should lash out when your stomach is grumbling... but it kind of explains why it happens sometimes, even when you don't mean it to.
The pre-frontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for self-control, uses 20 to 30 percent of the calories you consume, Bushman told Thrillist. So, when there aren't enough calories available to your pre-frontal cortex, tasks requiring discipline — like keeping yourself composed — suffer.
This science explains the emotion dubbed "hangry," which people have been talking about for some time but haven't fully understood scientifically. So in the interest of shedding a little light on the subject, let's take a look at how Bushman and his colleagues went about establishing the mechanisms of "hanger."
"Sweetened blood cools hot tempers"
Participants in one study described in "Sweetened blood cools hot tempers: physiological self-control and aggression" were served lemonade sweetened with either sugar or a sugar substitute. Then, they performed a paired task in which both partners had to press a button, and the slower button-presser received a blast of white noise in their headphones. Participants could dictate how loud a noise their partners received, starting with no noise at all, and how long they received it for.
Sure enough, those who drank artificially sweetened lemonade selected louder, longer-lasting noise blasts for their opponents than those who got the real thing.
In another study from the same paper, participants took a survey on diabetic symptoms. Since diabetes is linked with poor glucose metabolization, the researchers hypothesized that symptoms of diabetes could have the same effect as drinking unsweetened lemonade. So, they also surveyed subjects on their self-control and anger management.
Similarly, this study found that people with trouble metabolizing glucose exhibit less self-control and more aggression. "Glucose is brain food for self-control, and people who have difficulty metabolizing glucose also have difficulty controlling their aggressive impulses," the paper explains.
In another study, "Sweet revenge: Diabetic symptoms predict less forgiveness," researchers once again surveyed participants on diabetic symptoms as a measure of glucose metabolization. But this time, in addition to asking participants about their typical behaviors, they tested how likely people were to forgive others in real, hypothetical, and staged scenarios.
Whether rating their own dispositions, reporting their level of forgiveness for recent transgressions, assessing whether they'd forgive characters in fictional stories, or choosing whether to cooperate with a partner in the Prisoner's Dilemma Game, lower glucose correlated with less forgiveness.
The moral of the story? One way to reduce fights with your significant other may be to keep your blood sugar in check. And if you find yourself with the urge to blast strangers with loud noises, it may be time to visit your neighbors' lemonade stand. Just make sure they're not using Splenda.
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